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Dean Yolanda Pierce Named Next Dean at Vanderbilt Divinity School

Yolanda Pierce

WASHINGTONYolanda Pierce, PhD, dean of the Howard University School of Divinity, has been named the next dean of the Vanderbilt Divinity School. Pierce will leave Howard at the end of the semester and begin her service at Vanderbilt on July 1, pending approval of the Vanderbilt University Board of Trust.  

Pierce has served as dean and professor of religion at Howard University since 2017. She will succeed Emilie M. Townes, a leader and innovator in the re-envisioning of theological education, to become the 17th dean in the school’s history. 

“I am honored and excited for the opportunity to become dean of Vanderbilt Divinity School, an innovator in 21st-century theological education, and to work with dedicated faculty and staff in the preparation of outstanding ministers and scholars,” Pierce said. “I have long heard about the school’s rich history as an advocate for racial and social justice, and I look forward to building on the strong foundation that Emilie Townes and others have established to form this treasured community.”  

“We are thankful for the dedication and years of service Dean Pierce has given to Howard University. Dean Pierce is one of the most beloved members of our campus community and I look forward to seeing her thrive in her next great opportunity at Vanderbilt,” said Wayne A.I. Frederick, MD, MBA, president of Howard University. “During her time at Howard, she has overseen the successful reaccreditation of the School of Divinity, increased the number of enrolled students, and expanded the school’s programs and initiatives.” 

A graduate of Cornell and Princeton universities, Pierce was selected by the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture to found the Center for African American Religious Life. As a public theologian and scholar, she has been recognized as a member of the American Academy of Religion and received numerous awards, including fellowships from the Ford Foundation, Melon Foundation and the Pew Foundation.  

Pierce is a native New Yorker and first-generation college student who earned a doctorate in religion and literature at Cornell. She taught at the University of Kentucky, earning tenure as a faculty member in English and African American studies, before moving into theological education. She then joined the faculty of Princeton Theological Seminary, where she was associate professor of religion and literature and the founding director of the Center for Black Church Studies.  

Pierce was the first woman selected to lead Howard School of Divinity. Her priorities included growing the number of students and expanding the school’s programs and initiatives. Under her watch, Howard launched a chaplaincy/clinical pastoral education program certified by the Association for Clinical Pastoral Education. In addition, the Doctor of Ministry program transitioned from residential to online. Pierce has also focused on securing funding to support enhanced student financial aid and program expansion.  

Pierce, an ordained Christian minister, was selected in 2015 as one of The Root 100 Most Influential African Americans. She is a member of several professional organizations, including the Modern Language Association, the American Academy of Religion, and the American Historical Association.  

“During the search process, Yolanda Pierce stood out for her outstanding national leadership at the intersection of religion and public life,” said C. Cybele Raver, provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs at Vanderbilt University. “Yolanda is not only an outstanding public leader but also a deeply personal writer and scholar who will bring her profound insights to the role of faith and spirituality in society, particularly in the context of African American culture, to Vanderbilt Divinity School. She is the ideal candidate to continue Emilie Townes’ pathbreaking work in what we boldly call “Schola Prophetarum”, School of the Prophets—preparing our students to be 21st-century ministers, teachers and community leaders in a challenging world.”  



About Howard University  

Founded in 1867, Howard University is a private, research university that is comprised of 14 schools and colleges. Students pursue more than 140 programs of study leading to undergraduate, graduate and professional degrees. The University operates with a commitment to Excellence in Truth and Service and has produced two Schwarzman Scholars, four Marshall Scholars, four Rhodes Scholars, 12 Truman Scholars, 25 Pickering Fellows and more than 165 Fulbright recipients. Howard also produces more on-campus African American PhD. recipients than any other university in the United States. For more information on Howard University, visit www.howard.edu